Did God Have a Wife?

Did God Have a Wife?

Dustin White
Editor

For the last few decades, there has been a strong interest in the goddess Asherah. Especially in the last decade, various popular works, such as documentaries, have fueled general opinion on this subject to the point in which there has arisen the claim that Asherah was the wife of God.

Much of this work has been sensationalist products that step out of the scholarly circle and into pseudo-scholarship. However, even in serious scholarship (or in some cases semi-serious scholarship) there have been differing view points. In the end, a definite answer can not be gives as 100% satisfaction, but one answer does appear to be more probable.

Looking at Ancient Israel, Asherah is poorly attested as a separate Israelite goddess. From what is evident, only the symbol (the asherah), which bears the name of the goddess, is criticized. Certainly, the symbol, the asherah was part of the Ancient Israelite religion, the cult of Yahweh, but not the goddess herself.

It is possible that worship of the goddess Asherah did last into the period of the ancient Israelites. The problem we have in being certain of this is that we have neither Biblical or inscriptional information to support such a position.

There is possibly one exception to this. An inscription from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, dated to around 800 B.C.E. The basis of the inscription states:

“I bless you to Yahweh of Samaria, and to his/its asherah.”

It is this inscription that has led to some individuals to believe that the goddess Asherah was the consort of God. Yet, there are problems with such an interpretation.

The first problem is that to take asherah, in the passage, as a proper noun, one must resort to special pleading. As Mark S. Smith states in his book, The Early History of God, “… scholars have noted that the pronominal suffix on *’srth indicates that the form is a common noun and not personal name of the goddess Asherah.”

In order to read the term asherah as a proper noun in this passage, one must throw out the grammatical rules.

Even if asherah was a proper noun in this passage though, it would not be clear what is being said. In order to read this passage then as evidence of Asherah being the consort of God, one must read the passage with that preconceived idea in mind.

Instead, it is more reasonable to assume that the passage is speaking of something that belongs to God (or Yahweh). When it states “his asherah,” the most reasonable reading is that the asherah belongs to God. It is not what we would expect if they were referring to a consort or wife. Instead we should take it as something that is his, such as a symbol.

The biggest problem though is that Asherah does not appear to be an Israelite goddess. Certainly, she was a goddess in the land at one point, and may have been at one point considered to be the consort of El, the Canaanite high god.

However, early on, Yahweh (God) and El appear to be combined into one god, while Asherah disappeared. What was left of her was the cult symbol, which as we saw above, became associated with Yahweh.

There is one early attestation to Asherah though, which appears in 1 Kings 18:19. When I say early here, I am referring to Iron II (ca. 1000-587 B.C.E.). In this passage though, we do run into a problem.

The main problem is that historically, Asherah is not attested to in any Tyrian text. Since 1 Kings presents Asherah as a Tyrian functionary, while Asherah is not attested in Tyrian text of this time, the historical certainty of this text is dubious. In fact, Asherah is not attested to at all during that time period in coastal Phoenicia. So this text is not a plausible historical witness.

There are other later Biblical references to asherah; however, none of these appear to refer to a goddess but instead to a cultic object. For instance, two passages in 2 Kings (21:7 and 23:4) both mention “asherah.”

The first verse, it is clear that the author found the object (the asherah) to be idolatrous. Yet, whether or not it signified the goddess cannot be determined. The second passage more clearly represents an object, the asherah, being presented the same way.

There are a few other verses that mention asherah, but they again are not referring to a goddess. In Judges 3:7, for instance, we see a use of “the asherahs” as a generic term, not referring to any specific goddess.

In the end, we have no definite evidence for Asherah being the consort of God, and really no evidence she was an Israelite goddess. Instead, it appears that her symbol outlived her cult, and ended up holding a place in the cult of Yahweh.